Gramophone Editor's Choice
The symphonies of Rued Langgaard are not often performed outside his native Denmark, probably because he was tagged as a late Romantic in an era of obligatory modernism. It's true that he wrote tonal music that took a great deal from Richard Strauss in his handling of the orchestra, and from Robert Schumann in its large fields of orchestral arpeggios. It takes an orchestra of the Vienna Philharmonic's caliber to bring these off, so this release, headed by veteran Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, is welcome. The late Romantic rubric somehow does not give an idea of what Langgaard's music is like: it has a strongly Scandinavian pictorial and programmatic orientation, influenced by other Scandinavian composers but unique in structure and expressive qualities. Consider and sample the middle movement of the Symphony No. 2 ("Vaarbrud," meaning "Awakening of Spring"), which is based on a Danish hymn but is not a set of variations on it, nor a fantasy on it, but rather, you might say, a moderate stretching-out. (Its partial resemblance to Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott heightens the effect.) Langgaard revised his symphonies later in life, shortening several of them; you hear the original versions here, which may be less desirable. But the storm music in the Symphony No. 6 ("Himmelrivende") is of an almost mystical intensity, free-from conventional artifice. Two simpler pieces ring down the curtain: a lyrical movement from a later Langgaard symphony, which is a reasonable choice, and the Tango Jalousie of Jacob Gade, which, although a superb little work, seems to come out of nowhere here. An offbeat, highly worthwhile choice.